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Death toll from asylum boat tragedy could rise as investigation launched

Australian authorities have begun a criminal investigation into shipwreck which killed at least 28 people off Christmas Island yesterday.

AT LEAST 28 PEOPLE died in yesterday’s shipwreck and Australia’s prime minister warns the more bodies may be found.

A boat carrying an unknown number of asylum seekers crashed on rocks off the coast of Christmas Island yesterday during extreme weather conditions.

Witnesses on Christmas Island said they unable to enter the water to assist the survivors due to the rough seas, but a naval ship and a couple of other boats arrived on the scene to take people from the water.

Another witness claims that the navy not arriving sooner on the scene contributed to the disaster. Simon Prince from Christmas Island told the Herald Sun: “I don’t want to be bashing the navy… but I’m pretty down on them for not being there yesterday”.

A refugee advocate yesterday claimed that Australian authorities, who regularly patrol the area and intercept asylum seekers, knew that the ship was heading to Christmas Island before it crashed. The BBC reports that up to 100 people may have been on board when it broke up.

Australian authorities will launch a criminal investigation under the country’s people-smuggling laws, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the boat had not been detected by officials until it was close to the island.

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ABC Australia reports that experts warn the 42 survivors are likely to be traumatised and should be transferred to the mainland for appropriate care. One psychiatrist told ABC that the incident has affected others staying at the Christmas Island detention centre and they feel “absolutely devastated” after witnessing the tragedy.

ABC charts the timeline of events surrounding yesterday’s rescue efforts:

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